Friday, 20 July 2007

Goodbye Newport Pagnell

To many people I suspect Newport Pagnell is no more than a service station on the M1 motorway. To the car enthusiast Newport Pagnell is also the home of Aston Martin but as of 19th July it is no longer a car factory. The last Vanquish was driven off the production line in a ceremony attended by local dignitaries, Aston owners and employees. For the foreseeable future all Astons will be built at the purpose built facility at Gaydon in Warwickshire.

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There is no cause for sadness, for one thing the Newport Pagnell site has been retained as a centre for servicing and restoring older cars. And, like most companies with a long history, Aston Martin has had more than one factory. The original factory was at Feltham in Middlesex (I think) and it was in 1953 that tractor magnate and then owner of Aston bought the Newport Pagnell site with full production starting in 1958.

The closure does mean that both of the car factories I’ve visited have closed (the other was Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant). It was back when the DB7 was current but before the Virage and Vantage had been phased out. I was given a tour by the late Roger Stowers, the company historian and archivist. Whatever you thought of the old V-series cars you had to respect the craftsmanship and love with which they were assembled. Who could believe the current, thoroughly modern Astons are any relation to the magnificent old dinosaurs the company used to make? I wonder if the Gaydon factory will enjoy 50 years of productivity.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Sad news for Bristol fans

It seems that thieves have stolen the presses used to make the panels for the Bristol Blenheim. The presses, which weigh up to 30 tonnes, are thought to have been stolen for their scrap value – far less than the cost Bristol will incur replacing them.

What sort of world are we living in? You simply wouldn’t think anyone would consider stealing something like this. Maybe it will give Bristol the opportunity to develop a more shapely new body for the Blenheim range. There are those who would be happy if Bristol dusted off the tooling for the 411 range. The problem is the cost of developing and type approving a new body. I just hope it doesn’t mean the end of Bristol Cars.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Thirty One Years Ago…

…as well as a heatwave and the American bicentennial celebrations July 1976 saw my arrival into the world. By way of a celebration I thought I’d have a look at the world of motoring in July ’76 as reported in CAR.

Lancia were promoting their Stratos, Citroën were making a fuss about the economy of their quirky cars (remember the Dyane and Ami?). The big news was the Chrysler Scamp, which the world would know as the Sunbeam. The Sunbeam didn’t go on sale until 1977 but July’s newcomers included the Renault 14 and Volvo 343 – not very stimulating. The Lancia Gamma was too new for its foibles to be discovered and the Lamborghini Silhouette seemed very stimulating indeed.

No issue of CAR in this period would be complete without a helping of supercars. Mel Nichols was dispatched to visit Maserati, De Tomaso, Lamborghini and Ferrari. After some difficult times in the fuel crisis things were looking up for the makers of exotic cars.

Almost every time I pick up an old magazine I find something that suggests the world hasn’t changed much in the passing years. So it was with an article on Formula 1:

And if you handicapped cars and opened up circuits to a bit more competition and a little less slowing down, assuring safety in other ways than by multiplying chicanes and other artificial curves and thus allowing more passing and more changes in race position…

How many times every year do people crave more overtaking in F1? What was the saying? Plus ça change...